Plants we love to hate

February 13, 2014 § 25 Comments

 Ask any gardener their favourite plant, and they pause . . .  think . . . pause . . . and then come out with something indefinite or general. They like “what’s in flower now”, or “plants that do well in my soil”, or “old roses”. But, ask them what plants they hate, and there is no hesitation. They get right down to it, in detail and with enthusiasm. In other words, we gardeners are devoted to hating certain plants. So, in honour of St Valentine’s Day and its theme of love, I thought that it might be fun to consider plants that gardeners love to hate.

I was going to start with my own pet abominations, but I’ve found a man whose list of dislikes is one that I might have written myself, so I’ll let him speak for both of us. Andrew Wilson is the head of the judging panel for show gardens at Bloom, Ireland’s annual horticultural event in the Phoenix Park. Based in London, he is also a lecturer, designer and writer — and detester of variegated plants. They look ill, he says: “spattered, mottled or simply just a disgusting and fading yellow. I remember finding a golden-leaved Weigela tucked at the back of Denmans Garden in glorious pink flower, and wanting to vomit. I still use it in colour lectures to say ‘why would anyone do this?’ ”

Wilson also hates lilac and privet, and is not too keen on hybrid tea roses either. Photinia ‘Red Robin’, rhododendrons and Hydrangea macrophylla are also on his roster of disliked shrubs. Potential designers of show gardens at Bloom, take note.

Oh no, not another hydrangea!

Oh no, not another hydrangea!

Helen Dillon, whose patch in Ranelagh is one of the best town gardens in the world, can’t stand purple plum trees and Acer ‘Crimson King’.

“I particularly hate the purple plum,” she says. “I can see why people will fall for it. It looks pretty for a couple of weeks in early spring, with its pale-pink blossom. But when you get to August, it is positively vile: it gets darker and darker and darker. If you screw your eyes up, it looks black. Black and dead. A heavy, sulky, horrid thing.”

Acer ‘Crimson King’, a dark-leaved Norway maple, is even worse, she says, because of its larger leaves. “It is poisonous, because its does more killing, more shading out. It’s so unfair on its neighbours.”

Frances MacDonald of the Bay Garden, Camolin, Co Wexford, and garden tour manager for the Travel Department has a special hostility towards orchids. “Can’t bear them. Hate getting them. There is nothing worse than seeing them stringing along on a grey windowsill in Ireland. They should be seen in a jungle setting or, at a push, in Madeira or Jersey where they are properly displayed and impeccably grown.” MacDonald sits on many question-and-answer panels at garden shows, and nothing irritates her more than the inevitable: “I got a present of an orchid, and can you tell me how to make it flower again?” What she doesn’t reply, but would love to, is: “Why not just stick to the good old spider plant? It used to be good enough for us.”

Will they still be singing after a few months on an Irish window sill?

Will they still be singing after a few months on an Irish window sill?

In Dunmore East in Co Waterford, Michael Kelly, founder of GIY, an international movement of home growers, is at odds with the globe artichoke. “It’s very decorative, not a bad-looking piece of kit — but it contributes the least for the most space. You get all this palaver about growing it, and then at the end, you get this tiny disc of food after all the ridiculousness of peeling back those scaly things — are they petals? — and dipping them in butter, and pretending that they taste good. You know, everything tastes good if you dip it in butter. I’d much prefer to root it out and put sixty beetroot in the same space.”

Bedding begonias are top of Geoff Stebbings’s bugaboo list. The show judge and former editor of the British Garden Answers magazine is restoring a large garden in Co Wexford. “They do have lots of good points: they grow in shade, they flower for ever, they don’t get any pests or diseases. They tick lots of boxes, but they’re like a plant designed by committee. They are boring and completely without any characer. They’re like little blobs of colour. There is something about the smug, dumpiness of them.You almost feel like you want to stamp on them to put them out of their misery.”

I agree. I wouldn’t mind consigning them to the compost heap — along with most of the plants above. And, can we add those ghastly orange, pink, wine and lime-green heucheras to the pile, as well?

How about you? What plant do you love to hate?

A version of this blog post appeared in the Sunday Times.


§ 25 Responses to Plants we love to hate

  • Jenny Tunley Price says:

    Aucuba japonica! Vile, evil-looking thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Alison says:

    Laurels – they just sit there looking sulky – not a fan of hostas either


  • Denise Dunne says:

    I’m not a fan of many shrubs but scutch grass is probably my worst enemy!


  • Graham Rice says:

    This is how I begin the chapter on marigolds in my book Discovering Annuals (

    “I hate marigolds. Well, says he quickly, I don’t hate them all… But really, why grow African marigolds? If a truck backed up to your gate and tipped out a huge load of those yellow playballs you see at nursery schools, would you arrange them in your borders? If a salesman called at your door and offered you plastic oranges on sticks, would you plant them neatly in your containers?”

    I go on to say that there are a few tall single French marigolds that I really like. But you get the drift…


    • Jane Powers says:

      Yes, poor old African marigolds, and all those other horribly stunted annuals. There are some fine tall French marigolds, though, as you say. I grow them in the greenhouse — in case they fell like deterring whitefly.


  • Maraeka says:

    HOW could ANYONE hate lilacs? I am at a loss, as I didn’t know such a person existed, as they are for me (along with lily of the valley) one of the sweetest and best loved parts of spring. However I also hate hostas, day lillies, and hydrangeas. 🙂


  • Kathryn Marsh says:

    I think a lot depends on size of garden. I’m absolutely in the hate variegation club, and all those heucheras (though the vine weevils deal with them so they don’t stay around for long) but some of the others on the list are fine if you have the space for them. I love lilacs in great big blowzy masses, but you need to something else to take over from them because they don’t do anything except flower. And privet is fine if you grow a single small privet tree with its graceful little flowers and beautiful scent – but again, once it has finished you need a distraction. As Graham has said the tall single French marigolds are pretty, giving an airy space at a medium height, especially if you grow them as a jungly understorey under your tomatoes. And hostas have very pretty flowers and mix well with candelabra primulas to lighten up all those leaves (I’m taking it for granted that no one in their right mind wants to grow the variegated ones of course, or the horrible gold ones that whose leaves burn in the sun).
    Acer Crimson King is fine in a small patch of woodland, so long as you don’t mix it up with red hazels, that horrible plum and other weirdnesses – though a sugar maple gives better Autumn colour.
    I like orchids too – yes, the common or garden supermarket ones – but they need to be massed and to disappear into lots of exotic foliage, and I’ll happily forgive blue hydrangeas their foliage for the glorious colours of their flowers on an acid soil – especially as I can’t grow them in my cold badly drained garden.
    So really there are very few plants that I really hate – except that weigela which my mother in law bought for me more than thirty years ago and selected a prime spot for. When it finally died last year I was (almost) sad to see it go.


  • Bob Groves says:

    Japanese Dockweed. It is evil.


  • Context. Anyone care about context?


  • Colette Dunkley says:

    Geranium nodosum ( bas***d weed) & saponaria except for the occasional humid august afternoon.


  • john lord says:

    I hate garden snobbery and it’s first cousin, garden fashion. A particular snobbery is an aversion to variegated plants. They should of course, be judged on their individual merits. Nothing wrong with Cornus alternifolia variegata. And the spotted laural is amazing in deep shade, but only in deep shade, it’s useless in sun.I have a very fine and much commented upon variegated wigelia. It has a nice well balanced cream and green variegation on a good upright plant and the pink flowers are a pleasant bonus. It must be put in amongst darker plainer plants but that’s sort of obvious.
    For practical reasons, I dislike small leaved hebes particularly the grey ones. They tend to look woeful with age, falling apart and full of dead material.


    • brendan farrell says:

      I agree with you John. There is a lot of snobbery in relation to particular plants. It is good that people get into gardening and plants, In their own time,they will find their creative side and strive to have their perfect garden. I have been working on my garden for 28 years and just when I think I am getting there my sights and ambition goes higher. I have enjoyed my own growing as much as my garden in that journey.


  • Rhonda says:

    Ubiquitous hostas in Minnesota. Like them featured as individuals, but not in willy-nilly groupings.


  • Manuela Dei Grandi says:

    I hate Dandelions, as I can’t get rid of them, and Peonias: they just don’t do anything for me…


  • Leylandii. Hateful. But if you chase it up, top it and play around with a bit of inventive pruning it can look good. I hate Hebes. Sometimes their flowers are redeemable. But they do respond to a good prune so can be an ok backdrop, sometimes. That Aucuba japonica is also pretty vile. But it can be a light relief in a vase of flowers. So yes, contact can be everything.


  • Stephen Butler says:

    Well the comments are as good as the initial notes! Yes I also hate variegated plants, they certainly do not fit into natural habitats in my zoo, but some ‘natural’ ones are excellent – Silybum marianum is just one wonderful example. Some variegated selections by gardeners are usually the worst and should have been strangled at birth (the plants, not the gardeners).

    Graham – many years since we were at Kew mate – marigolds were the only bedding plant that I could use in my zoo as it was NOT eaten by the blasted peafowl, the only good peafowl is surrounded of course by roast spuds. But yes they were a pain in wet weather as rare as that is in Ireland, in summer……………………………

    Worst weed is common ivy, almost irrepressible urge to climb and fill any other plant. I reckon 1% of staff time over the year is ivy removal. Stephen Butler


  • Arabella Sock says:

    I am having a hard time thinking of a plant I hate – there is a time and a place for all of them apart from those hydrangeas that look the colour of ‘old lady knickers’ that have been washed in with a red colour run. I don’t speak from experience as most of my knickers are black.

    Liked by 1 person

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